Byelorussian Operation of 1944
Byelorussian Operation of 1944
one of the largest strategic operations of the Great Patriotic War of 1941–45; conducted from June 23 to Aug. 29. The Byelorussian salient, formed as a result of advances by the Soviet troops toward Polotsk and Kovel’ in the winter of 1943–44, was very significant in the system of enemy defenses, since it covered the shortest roads to the German borders. In order to consolidate the salient, the enemy deployed troops from the right flank of the Sixteenth Army of Army Group North; Army Group Center, which consisted of the Third Panzer Army and the Fourth, Ninth, and Second armies, commanded by Field Marshal E. Busch (after June 28, by Field Marshal W. Model; and the left-flank large units of the Fourth Panzer Army of the Northern Ukraine Army Group. In all, 63 divisions and three brigades, including more than 800,000 men (not counting the rear units), about 10,000 guns, 900 tanks and self-propelled assault weapons, and more than 1,300 airplanes, were involved on the German side. The enemy occupied an organized and well-arranged defense position, which was supported by a developed system of field fortifications and natural boundaries, including large rivers—the Zapadnaia Dvina, Dnieper, and Berezina; the depth of the defenses reached 250–270 km.
The aim of the Byelorussian Operation was to rout Army Group Center and to free Byelorussia. The basic strategy of the operation was simultaneously to break through the enemy’s defenses in six sectors and to encircle and destroy the flank groupings of the enemy around Vitebsk and Bobruisk, and then to develop a swift offensive into the enemy’s rear with the goal of encircling and destroying the Fourth German Army at Minsk. For the Byelorussian Operation, troops were deployed from the First Baltic Front (General of the Army I. Kh. Bagramian), Third Byelorussian Front (Colonel General I. D. Cherniakhovskii), Second Byelorussian Front (General of the Army G. F. Zakharov), and First Byelorussian Front (General of the Army K. K. Rokossovskii)—in all, 166 divisions and troops of nine infantry brigades and field fortified areas (1.4 million men, not counting rear areas of the fronts and armies, as well as 31,700 guns and mortars, 5,200 tanks and self-propelled artillery mounts, and more than 6,000 airplanes). In the rear of the enemy, Byelorussian partisans were actively participating.
On June 23 the First Baltic, the Third, and the Second Byelorussian fronts attacked, and on June 24 the First Byelorussian Front attacked. Troops of the First Baltic Front broke through the enemy’s defenses and already on June 25, together with the Third Byelorussian Front, encircled five German divisions west of Vitebsk, which they liquidated by June 27; the main forces of the front forced a crossing of the Zapadnaia Dvina River on the move and on June 28 occupied the city of Lepel’. Troops of the Third Byelorussian Front successfully broke through the enemy defenses; the Fifth Guards Tank Army entered the breach and on July 1, in coordination with the Eleventh Guards Army and Thirty-First Army, freed the city of Borisov. As a result, the Third German Panzer Army was cut off from the Fourth Army, which was deeply enveloped from the north. Troops of the Second Byelorussian Front broke through strong enemy defenses along the Pronia, Basia, and Dnieper rivers and on June 28 freed Mogilev. Troops of the First Byelorussian Front on June 27 completed the encirclement of five German divisions near Bobruisk, which were liquidated on June 29; at the same time, troops of the front reached the line of the Svisloch’ River, Osipovichi, and Liuban’. Thus, after six days of the offensive, the flank formations of the enemy around Vitebsk and Bobruisk were destroyed, and a front in the direction of Mogilev was broken through. The German-fascist command unsuccessfully tried to form a continuous front. By June 29 its troops near Minsk became deeply enveloped and were under severe attack from the north and south. The troops of the Third Byelorussian Front rushed through Orsha and Borisov to Molodechno and simultaneously struck a crippling blow to Minsk from the north with large mobile units. The troops of the First Byelorussian Front advanced the attack on Minsk from the south with large mobile units and on Slutsk with the rest of its forces. The Third Byelorussian Front swiftly advanced to the west and southwest. On July 2 its large tank units took the important road junctions of Vileika and Krasnoe, cutting off the enemy’s path of retreat to Vilnius. The main forces of the First Byelorussian Front, having taken Stolbtsy and Gorodeia, cut off the enemy’s path of withdrawal from Minsk to Baranovichi. On July 3, Minsk was freed, and to the east of Minsk the main forces of the Fourth German Army were encircled (more than 100,000 men). By July 11 these forces had been liquidated; more than 70,000 had been killed and approximately 35,000 taken prisoner. Troops of the First Baltic Front freed Polotsk and continued to push the attack on Shiauliai.
A 400–km breach was created in the center of the German front, which the German-fascist command could not fill. On July 13, Vilnius was freed. By the middle of July, Soviet troops reached the approaches of Dvinsk, Kaunas, Grodno, Belostok, and Kobrin. On July 17 and 18, Soviet troops on a wide front crossed the state boundaries of Poland and entered its territory. Supreme Command Headquarters committed its strategic reserves toward Shiauliai. On July 27 troops of the First Baltic Front occupied Shiauliai, and on July 31 they reached the Gulf of Riga in the vicinity of Tukums, cutting off land communications of Army Group North. In the second half of August the enemy mounted strong counterattacks with heavy tank forces and restored land communications with Army Group North. Troops of the Third Byelorussian Front crossed the Niemen River and on Aug. 11 took Kaunas and reached the borders of East Prussia. Troops of the Second Byelorussian Front freed Grodno on July 16 and Belostok on July 27; by the end of July they reached the Narew River. On July 18 the left wing of the First Byelorussian Front moved in attack toward Lublin and on July 20 forced a crossing of the Zapadnyi Bug and entered Poland. On July 23, Lublin was freed, followed by Brest on July 28. Advancing the attack, in the period July 28–Aug. 2 the troops forced a crossing of the Vistula south of Warsaw on the move and snatched bridgeheads in the vicinity of Magnuszew and Pulawy. In August and September, Soviet troops, repulsing counteroffensives of the enemy and strengthening the position they had reached, took the eastern parts of Warsaw and Prague and reached the Narew River on a wide front, snatching bridgeheads on it near Rozan and Serock.
As a result of the Byelorussian Operation, all of Byelorussia was freed, as well as a significant part of Lithuania, part of Latvia, and eastern parts of Poland. The strategic front of the enemy was crushed to a depth of 600 km. Some 17 German divisions and three brigades were completely destroyed, and 50 divisions lost 60–70 percent of their men.
REFERENCESIstoriia Velikoi Otechestvennoi voiny Sovetskogo Soiuza 1941–1945, vol. 4. Moscow, 1962.
Osvobozhdenie Belorussii. Moscow, 1969.
Malan’in, K. A. Razgrom fashistskikh voisk ν Belorussii. Moscow, 1956.
A. N. SHIMANSKH